On Sunday 18th February I took Open Combat to the Butterfly House section of the three day Bonescon organised play event at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel.
I have to admit to being a little sketchy on the details of the event (despite being there). My understanding is that Bonescon is the spiritual successor of the Smogcon event which used to be closely tied to the competitive Warmachine scene in the UK. The team behind Bonescon put together a three day event of competitions, organised play events and painting competitions for multiple game systems all within several halls of the hotel. The atmosphere in the hall I was in on the Sunday was very relaxed and cheerful. One of the guys I spoke to said it was a super honest and helpful crowd all over as he’d forgotten he’d left his miniatures in the competition hall in the morning one day, returned late that night where players were still playing, and discovered his models on the side of the table while a game was progressing. The guys playing said they’d put them to the side so they could use the table and figured someone would be back for them (several sets of players had played at that table over the course of the day).
Along with the competitive games hall there was an open play hall and within this there was an area affectionately called the Butterfly House, run by Mike Marshall and Matt Spooner of the Fools Daily blog and podcast. The Butterfly House was where visitors could play any of a multitude of the less well-known tabletop miniature games on the market. While I was there Gaslands games were going on, Paranoid Miniatures were doing their thing with Mythos and I think there were several others too but I didn’t see them as I didn’t get a chance to leave my table all day. On the previous two days Gav Thorpe had also been running demoes of his work in progress Big Stompy Robots game.
I wasn’t sure what I would be doing when I agreed to take Open Combat to the Butterfly House section of the event. Initially I thought I’d be running a campaign day but as the months leading up the to event didn’t shed any light on if I had players or not I was anticipating I’d be running demoes all day. However it turned out that I had got three players for a campaign day plus a few that simply fancied having a go at something different!
While two players had very cool warbands that they’d brought along for the event (very nice work by Martin and Conner – I wish I’d got photos of those warbands!), I needed two other warbands for the players without models that simply wanted to give it a go. I quickly threw together a couple of warbands by combining elements from several of my demo lists and we were good to go.
Fortunately I’d got the campaign day I ran at ROBIN still in mind so I used the same organisational template of those games for the day. It was all a little impromptu on my part and I do feel I was being incredibly disorganised but the Butterfly House section was very much just about playing games so the players were happy to just pick a table and play.
One of the warbands I’d put together for use by players was a Dark Ages force based on combining my demo Vikings and Saxons which was reasonably balanced with regards to threats it could put out and model synergies despite being thrown together. The second force was a slightly different story as it was made by combining elements from the two Sword Masters demo forces which were intentionally designed to showcase some of the Sword Masters abilities without much thought for fighting battles in a wider context. So there were a few intentional weaknesses that don’t usually matter in a their own demo environment but do need a player to really understand the possible threats to the force to get the most from them if facing certain opponents. The player that picked these (I think it was Mike, apologies if I’ve got your name wrong!) discovered this in the last round as a combination of tabletop environment and opposing forces put him in a very tricky spot.
The first round was played without much input from me as I was talking to visitors about Open Combat but I did answer a few questions that popped up from players that were either rusty with regards the rules or totally new to the game. The second round saw the Dark Ages warband swap to a new player that fancied a try as the first round player had another game to get to. The second round scenario of Retrieve the Prize commenced and one of the moments that I heard as I was demoing/chatting to a visitor was that Shep, the dog in the Sword Masters warband, had found the Large Fish and proceeded to bound about the place using it to knock enemy fighters over!
A brief break in the proceedings allowed me to eat a quick sandwich and prepare for the next round and once again the player in command of the Dark Ages force needed to swap out to go to play a different game so I took command of them for a round. I faced Martin’s vampire and ghoul warband which looked very cool and had some very clever elements within it. I discovered that a couple of the Dark Ages fighters had picked up some injuries but the Vampire’s minions had also suffered over the day so the Renown levels were very close. The game played out in favour of Martin. Several bouts of poor combat rolls in succession for me combined with Martin playing very well with regards to getting the Prey critters in the right places and playing around the threats of the heavy hitters in the Dark Ages build ensured he had a reasonably comfortable victory. Following the round we had a look at Reputation levels and the Dark Ages Build hadn’t had any spent over the day so had amassed 85 points over the three previous rounds. Conner’s halflings had something in the region of 50-60 (despite replacing casualties), the Sword Masters were also somewhere in the region of 50-60 while Martin’s Vampire’s minions were on about 40 as they’d had to replace models earlier on.
The games had played very quickly and it was early afternoon at this point but I had several people wanting to play demoes so the three campaign players agreed to play a three-way fight using corner deployment for the final round while I retired the Dark Ages warband.
The final battle was fought over the Sword Masters demo table layout which is quite an open board with mostly low level terrain features, featuring a ‘trip’ hazardous area in the centre, good clear views made it a good board for archers. The halflings had several archers in their force and deployed on the opposite corner from the Sword Masters while the Vampire and minions deployed in one of the corners between them. From what I could gather from the way the game played out the Vampire and minions got stuck into the Sword Masters while the halflings took advantage of the open areas and rained arrows onto their foes from afar. Neither opposing force had any shields so the bow fire was particularly effective and the halflings won the day as they managed to hold off advances on their positions. Interestingly Conner said that the game the halflings had lost earlier in the day was against the Dark Ages build, most models in that build had shields so had pretty good protection from missile fire. Fortunately for Conner they had sailed off into retirement that round!
This is where manning a busy games table/stand can be a little overwhelming as I’m a little vague on the details of the end of the campaign. I think the final three-way campaign game ended with two warbands (the halflings and the Sword Masters) in the high 80s on Reputation but I can’t be sure as I didn’t get a chance to properly to chat to the guys as they wrapped up. I was deep into a demo game. But they appeared to have enjoyed their games, certainly in the context of the whole weekend and based on chatting with them during the day (plus bearing in mind this was the third day of a three day event) they had enjoyed playing a large selection of different games with different people and generally immersing themselves in the hobby for several days.
It was mid-afternoon at this point and I was now occupied with talking about Open Combat with visitors and running games which took me right the way through to packing up at the end of the day. A big thank you to all of you that came along and asked about Open Combat, played and bought into the game! (Plus thanks to Mike, I met so many people called Mike that day, who helped me pack up and take all my paraphernalia to the car).
A very special thank you to the guys that played in the Open Combat campaign games over the course of the day and apologies for me being a bit scatter-brained most of the day. I know some of the details of the campaign and injury system may have got lost in amongst player swap-overs and the hurly burly of the day but it was good to see games being played in such a relaxed and cheerful atmosphere.
I think Bonescon is likely to happen again next year and I know Mike Marshall has some ideas of how he wishes to move the Butterfly House section forward.
For my part I’ll return to Bonescon. I will have the Open Combat Battle Pits and Arenas supplement out by next year and I think a multiplayer gladiatorial ‘winner stays on’ style of Open Combat participation game might be better suited to the environment of the Butterfly House. I think I need a little more control of the build-up and environment to run a campaign day and something which both ROBIN and Bonescon have highlighted is that trying to run a campaign while doing something else (trading/demoing) is a bit too tall an order for me while I’m working solo. I will certainly be running more campaign days but most likely in a suitable games store and/or wargames club environment. What struck me about Sunday was how quickly the rounds rattled through and we could have easily played another game in the campaign during the day so five games in a day might even be viable. Hmmm… plenty of food for thought for my next organised play event.